Kate Samways-8862

5 min read

We all know the benefits of a motivated workforce: Happier, less stressed employees work harder, make better decisions, are more productive and innovative and drive better customer experiences. In other words, a motivated workforce is engaged. And with the staggering amount of disengagement in the work environment today according to Gallup and other sources, managers and leaders are interested in what they can do to motivate their people.

The thing is... motivation is not something that can be bought, begged or bribed. It can’t be forced upon us or trained. It’s intrinsic, meaning that comes from within, is part of our essential makeup.

Motivation belongs to us by our very nature as humans.

And this is even more important at work. Just take a look at the recent research, which shows that over seven in 10 employees say their employers could do more to motivate them. Let’s take a deeper dive into these numbers:


So what can you do to combat demotivators at work?

First, put the carrots away, and learn new ways to motivate employees.

Most business leaders’ thinking and behavior in trying to motivate people is outdated and (mostly) driven by false beliefs. Even with the overwhelming amount of evidence (and scientific proof) available to us today, there exists a chasm between what works in motivating people and what business leaders actually do.

And the No. 1 driver of motivation in the long term? Employees want to be shown appreciation for their hard work. And motivation can’t be bought, either. The usual carrot-and-stick approach to motivation is about control. It tends to bring with it a sense of pressure and anxiety that comes with negative consequences to performance and well-being. It reads:

“Achieve this goal and receive a bonus; miss the deadline or fail to deliver and we’ll have a serious discussion about your role with our company.”

This is a nail-biting situation that many of us have found ourselves in at one point or another.

On the other hand is autonomous or intrinsic motivation. This is motivation that comes from within.

In fact, the top reasons for employees feeling unmotivated are:

  • Feeling invisible or undervalued (43%)
  • Having a bad manager (43%)
  • A lack of employee recognition (40%)

Where an individual is more willing to put in the extra effort because they have choice in what they’re doing and are endorsing their own behavior. The output of their efforts is a feeling of accomplishment and sense of pride in a job well done. This type of motivation lends itself to more positive emotions and improvements in physical and mental health and well-being.

It’s time to change the question and stop asking how to motivate others – rather, we should be asking how can we create the environment for employees to motivate themselves?

The study of intrinsic motivation goes back to the early 1900s. Social scientists and researchers have come leaps and bounds since then and generally agree that these three things drive motivation at work: Respect, Purpose and Relationships. Employees crave:

  • Feeling respected and appreciated as a person and for the work they do.
  • Understanding how they make a difference on their team, the customer, or the company as a whole.
  • Building stronger connections with the people they work with, especially their immediate boss or manager.

When employees have these three cravings fulfilled, great things happen. Employee engagement improves, the work culture gets better and the customer experience is stronger. And arguably, the best way to create the environment for your team to improve motivation is through recognizing employees and shining a spotlight on their successes.

Learn how to define your recognition strategy with these 5 easy steps »

A simple thank-you for a job well done can go a long way in showing a colleague that you noticed their hard work and respect them for what they do every day.

Francesca Roddy - Lauren Lindsey (1)

Sending an eCard is a great and effective way to say thank you. Going even further by tying the individual’s actions to specific company goals, objectives or metrics helps connect the dots between what they do and how it affects the greater team (and company) as a whole. This is an example of strategic recognition, that is, and how to recognize employees to drive business value.

Automatically posting eCards to an internal social wall or activity feed ensures that everyone can celebrate in each other’s success and, perhaps more importantly, learn that behavior for themselves. The benefits of social recognition extends beyond just the moment of recognition — the real-time feed of recognition serves as a teaching tool, too, for HR or managers to give examples of how employees live out their values.

If your company is committed to building a more engaged workforce made up of people who consistently tap into their personal motivation to work harder, innovate more and make better decisions, then you must create the environment where they feel respected, understand the purpose and relevance of their work and have the ability to build strong relationships with their peers and their boss.

Ask yourself, is your organization stuck with a carrot-and-stick approach for motivating your people or are you leading the charge on making the world a better place to work by fueling your work environment with what truly motivates?

Gregg Lederman

Gregg Lederman is an Advisor to Reward Gateway and is passionate about making the world a better place to work. As the CEO of Brand at Work, Inc. he is a professional speaker and coach on leadership, employee engagement and customer experience.

Reward Gateway Advisor

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